As union negotiations continue, Memphis teachers will receive a 3% raise, and some will also get merit pay

For the first time in recent years, Shelby County Schools teachers with high evaluation scores will receive merit pay increases.

In addition, Superintendent Joris Ray said the district’s promise to allocate a 3% pay increase to all teachers and licensed school professionals in the Memphis district will go into effect next month and be retroactive to the beginning of the school year.

“Teaching is a noble profession and I believe you should be compensated as such,” Ray said in an email to teachers Tuesday.

Those making the minimum annual salary would go up to $37,080. Teachers receiving the maximum pay of $73,000 will receive a onetime 3% bonus of $2,190. Teachers with evaluation scores of 3, 4, and 5 on the state’s 5-point scale will receive a $750, $1,000, and $1,500 bonus respectively.

The district is currently in negotiations with Memphis-Shelby County Education Association and United Education Association of Shelby County for a new teacher agreement on issues such as working conditions and pay.

The 3% pay increase also applies to librarians, counselors, school-based instructional facilitators and teacher coaches, social workers, psychologists, ROTC instructors, and therapists. Ray said employees will not see increases to health insurance premiums this year.

Teacher groups have long opposed merit pay — awarding pay raises based on annual evaluations, which are partly based on state test scores. But both major teacher associations in Memphis have advocated instead for annual increases based on years of experience in addition to merit pay. Ray’s announcement satisfies that request for the current school year, but does not guarantee it for future years.

Ray appeared to take aim at the district’s two teacher associations in comments to the public Tuesday evening as he announced the pay increases.

“I’m very ecstatic tonight to say teachers, [that] this administration and this superintendent and school board, we listen to you. I heard you. I visited schools with the school board every single day. This superintendent does not need proxy to speak directly to teachers,” he said during the meeting Tuesday. “We listen to teachers. So please don’t be alarmed by noise, rhetoric, and untruths.”

Former superintendent Dorsey Hopson, who left in January after nearly six years at the helm, had tried to institute merit pay for several years to incentivize increased test scores. He succeeded once during the 2014-15 school year, but each year after, online state test administration was rife with technical issues, forcing Hopson to delay implementation.

Correction, Sept. 25, 2019: A previous version of this story said this year is the first time teachers received performance bonuses. Shelby County Schools gave teachers smaller performance bonuses during the 2014-15 school year, but hasn’t since.